THE HOUSE THAT YOU BUILT

IF QUESTIONS ABOUT ITS RETRACTABLE ROOF, POWER-HUNGRY AIR CONDITIONERS AND SUN-STARVED GRASS CAN BE ANSWERED, BANK ONE BALLPARK WILL BE A STATE-OF-THE-ART VENUE. FOR SEPARATING FANS AND TAXPAYERS FROM THEIR MONEY.

Stadium upgrades can be extremely expensive. Tampa, for instance, just pumped in $50 million to get its six-year-old domed stadium, which has never seen a professional baseball game, in shape for the expansion Devil Rays.

San Diego recently agreed to spend $60 million to upgrade Jack Murphy Stadium, the home of baseball's San Diego Padres and the National Football League's San Diego Chargers. The improvements were made primarily to extract a long-term commitment from the Chargers to remain in the city.

In Massachusetts, the NFL's New England Patriots are asking the public to invest $50 million to upgrade Foxboro Stadium. The public reception has been less than lukewarm.

In Houston, taxpayers just pumped $60 million into the Astrodome to meet the needs of the city's professional football team, the Houston Oilers. Even with the improvements, the Oilers are now making noises about moving to Nashville, Tennessee, where a new stadium has been promised.

Although Maricopa County's Bank One Ballpark will incorporate the latest technology, maintenance problems inevitably appear over time with any stadium.

The potential for future taxpayer outlays to repair or upgrade Bank One Ballpark is very real and troublesome, says Maricopa County Supervisor Tom Rawles, who was the sole vote against the quarter-cent sales tax used to pay for the stadium.

"Once you put your feet into this tar baby, I'm not sure you can get out," says Rawles.

But even if the public is bearing most of the stadium's construction and future maintenance costs, Colangelo and his investors have their worries, too.

Taxpayers are covering the first $238 million of the project and Maricopa County will contribute another $15 million in bond proceeds. Anything above $253 million in development outlays will be the Diamondbacks' responsibility.

Colangelo, who is controlling design and construction of the ballpark with oversight from the stadium district, has tremendous incentive to keep construction costs from ballooning. Overruns are one of the few stadium costs that come out of his pocket.

Even though demolition of buildings and utility relocation have begun at the site--bounded by Fourth and Seventh streets and Jefferson Street and the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks through downtown--there are clear signs that penny-pinching will soon be necessary. Trade-offs in quality seem imminent.

Cost estimates are creeping upward from the original $278 million estimate toward $285 million--two months before excavation and heavy construction get under way. Groundbreaking already has been pushed back six weeks later than planned, to mid-November.

The massive stadium, which will span 18 stories from playing field to roof, is expected to take 30 months to build. Unless time can be cut from the construction schedule, the stadium will not be ready for the start of the 1998 baseball season, a revenue-reducing outcome Colangelo wants to avoid at all costs.

The pressure is on and crucial decisions must soon be made.
"We are quickly reaching a point where the team is going to have to make cuts or ante up," says Joe Diesko, stadium project manager for Ellerbe Becket, the architecture firm that has a $16 million contract with the team and the stadium district to design the ballpark.

Any delays from now until April 1998 could prove extremely expensive.
"There is no slack," Diesko says.
An insider close to the Diamondbacks says Colangelo will soon be asking his investors, who already have contributed $107 million toward the $130 million expansion fee, for additional funds. Colangelo, who is the managing partner, has personally contributed less than $1 million, according to the team's prospectus.

Diamondbacks president Rich Dozer strongly denies the team is about to ask investors for more money.

Lurking in the background of the cost equation is confusion over how extensive ballpark food services operations should be. Of particular concern is the exclusive club restaurant planned for right field, designed to cater to luxury-suite and premium-seat fans. Stadium district records show that two options have been discussed: The first proposal is to eliminate the club, which Colangelo believes will lose money, and replace it with five additional luxury suites and 725 premium club seats--a move that would add more than $500,000 in annual revenue. The second option involves selling several hundred seats in the club for each game, eliminating the kitchen and reducing the size of the club from 20,000 square feet to 13,000 square feet. Colangelo seems to be leaning toward the latter.

Colangelo's desire to increase seating is a reflection of rising construction costs.

But there is little room to shoehorn more seats into the stadium's tight floor plan. The ballpark is already compact when compared with recently completed facilities, such as Coors Field in Denver and Camden Yards in Baltimore. Bank One Ballpark is about three fourths as large as Coors and Camden, but will seat about the same number of fans--49,000 plus.

Officially, stadium district officials and Diamondbacks executives are downplaying any problems. But weekly written reports prepared by the stadium architect reveal hairline fractures in the plans that could become full breakdowns as construction heads into full swing.

There is one problem that drives many others: making up time lost when landowners sued the stadium district to stop seizure of their property. Property owners were unhappy with the amount of money the stadium district was offering.

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